Medians And Messages

data and visualization

We still carry the historical baggage of a Platonic heritage that seeks sharp essences and definite boundaries...This Platonic heritage, with its emphasis in clear distinctions and separated immutable entities, leads us to view statistical measures of central tendency wrongly, indeed opposite to the appropriate interpretation in our actual world of variation, shadings, and continua. In short, we view means and medians as the hard "realities," and the variation that permits their calculation as a set of transient and imperfect measurements of this hidden essence. If the median is the reality and variation around the median just a device for its calculation, the "I will probably be dead in eight months" may pass as a reasonable interpretation.
Variation itself is nature's only irreducible essence. Variation is the hard reality, not a set of imperfect measures for a central tendency. Means and medians are the abstractions.

Stephen Jay Gould: The Median Isn't the Message

The Story Of A Streamgraph

design and visualization

At SimpleReach we spend a lot of time investigating, among other things, the motley social behavior of digital content. We ingest the links people share in a perpetual, frantic choreography of likes, pins, +1s, and tweets, and look for patterns that can predict the next few hours of social traffic to any given url. We see a lot of content and sharing in a 24 hour period which, internally, we look at all day in the form of charts, graphs, leaderboards, logs, and reports. Publically we’ve written a few blog posts about our research and spent a beer-fueled week building the sponsored content leaderboard, but other than that, the data is pretty much under lock and key.

When we started designing our first official marketing site (upgraded from a sign-up-form-slash-holding page lacquered in lighting effects, box shadows, and texture) one of the requirements was to incorporate our data in some way. After a bit of exploration we found the best approach was to visualize the relative sharing activity between social networks over a 24 hour period.

We looked into a number of different visualization techniques before settling on the streamgraph - a type of stacked area graph - for its visual appeal and architectural interestingness.

The horizontal flow of the river represents the flow of time. Each vertical section of the river corresponds to an ordered time slice. Each theme is represented by a colored current that runs horizontally within the river. The width of a current changes to reflect the strength of the corresponding theme over time. As the occurrence of a theme increases over time, the corresponding current widens. As a theme’s occurrence decreases over time, the corresponding current narrows.

Theme River: In Search of Trends, Patterns, and Relationships

The streamgraph on our marketing site visualizes the frequency of social actions over time across six major social networks. The graph displays data over the last 24 hours and updates every 10 minutes causing the height of the stream to undulate across the width of the screen throughout the day. It’s an interesting way to gauge the ebbs and flows of social actions - each day surfaces different shapes, bumps, and wiggles.

I check the site throughout the day to get a sense of how things are going on a macro level. Facebook always dominates, while the other five social networks alternate between 2nd and 3rd place. StumbleUpon occasionally has spikes of activity, and Twitter waxes and wanes. Unsurprisingly, if you remove Facebook from the visualization, the relationships between the other networks becomes more dynamic.

We work with a lot of large publishers who drive significant traffic on a daily basis. Sometimes when we onboard a particularly large one and the implementation isn’t quite right, it can have some interesting effects:

The streamgraph has been surprising in the variety of ways it can be used beyond our original intent. There are, of course, a number of things we could improve upon with the current graph - add the ability to toggle which networks are visible or select custom time frames such as the last 7 or 30 days. We could also spend some time investigating layout algorithms that cater more specifically to the statistical properties of our particular data set.

Additional reading:

  1. Theme River: In Search of Trends, Patterns, and Relationships - Susan Havre, Beth Hetzler, and Lucy Nowell
  2. Stacked Graphs, Geometry & Aesthetics - Lee Byron & Margin Wattenberg
  3. D3 and Streamgraphs

Temporality Of Experience And Happiness

design, psychology, and time

...happiness is an enduring life appreciation, representing the extent to which one is satisfied with the life one leads. It thereby excludes the short-lived moments that are considered to be moments of happiness in everyday dialogue, like the delight in a cup of tea at breakfast, the satisfaction of a chore done, or the enjoyment of a piece of art. This signifies an important difference between design for experience (or emotion) and design for happiness: design for experience generally focuses on short-term experiences, whereas design for happiness focuses on long-term life appreciation [highlight mine].

Ruitenberg & Desmet: Design Thinking in Positive Psychology

After reading this paper I can't stop noodling over the use of temporality to distinguish between designing for experience and designing for happiness. Overall I think the nuance is interesting, though it should be noted the authors use the term 'experience' as a proxy for 'product experience', rather than a larger notion of experience encompassing fields like service or healthcare experience design.

Design And The Process Of Forethought


For a streak of a 8 or 9 days I took minimalistic reading notes in the iOS app Paper. With each text I'd try to tease out the most fundamental concept and turn it into a short series of single-word slides. But, like an asshole, I didn't include any indication of the text being referenced and so here I sit, about six months later, desperately pawing books off shelves and tapping increasingly maniacal combinations of keywords into Google to no avail.

Decoupled from the original text, the slides have morphed into something small and unique. Process of Forethought I especially like and return to whenever I'm struggling with the nature and meaning of design. Not that I'm trying to justify irresponsible note-taking, but I'm interested in how the artifacts have shifted in meaning and use (I may even do it again).

But mostly I just want to know what #@!! texts are being referenced and so I'm reaching out to you, dear internet, in hopes someone might know.

Process of Forethought

Creating Judging Deciding Choosing



Purpose Sense Life

Commodification Of Time

technoculture and time

Victory Cigars celebrates daylight savings

Cigar stores celebrate the 1918 DST bill.

The penetration of time, the use of time as a mechanism of control, the opening of time to commerce and politics has been radically extended by advances in computer technology. Time has been redefined as an ecological niche to be filled down to the microsecond, nanosecond, and picosecond — down to a level at which time can be pictured but not experienced. This process and the parallel reconstruction of practical consciousness and practical activity begins in those capacities of the telegraph which prefigure the computer. The telegraph constructed a simulacrum of complex systems, provided an analogue model of the railroad and a digital model of language. It coordinated and controlled activity in space, often behind the backs of those subject to it.

James W. Carey: Technology and Ideology: The Case of the Telegraph

Always Distrust Tools

design and interface

It's good to learn how to do something. It's better to learn many ways of doing something. But it's best to learn all these ways as suggestions or hints. Not truth.

Learn tools, and use tools, but don't accept tools. Always distrust them; always be alert for alternative ways of thinking. This is what I mean by avoiding the conviction that you "know what you're doing".

Bret Victor: References for "The Future of Programming"

Circular Layouts With Sass

css, interface, and web

See the Pen KEFvf by Andrea Mignolo (@pnts) on CodePen

Came up with this Sassified way of placing an arbitrary number of elements along a circle, sans Javascript. It relies on CSS transforms so it isn't entirely bullet-proof, but it seems to work pretty well.

Please note: the CodePen embed is having a mild freakout when viewed in Firefox, but if you visit the actual pen it will behave accordingly.

The Power Of A Visualization

design, interface, and visualization

The power of a visualization comes from the fact that it is possible to have a far more complex concept structure represented externally in a visual display than can be held in visual and verbal working memories. People with cognitive tools are far more effective thinkers than people without cognitive tools, and computer-based tools with visual interfaces may be the most powerful and flexible cognitive systems. Combining a computer-based information system with flexible human cognitive capabilities, such as pattern finding, and using a visualization as the interface between the two is far more powerful than an unaided human cognitive process.

Knowledge and Information Visualization

Design Conversations


Been going through a bit of back and forth recently with Papa Mignolo about design and decoloniality. Throughout our conversations I’ve been struggling to articulate design in a way that does justice to the theory, practice, and evolution of design (not to mention why it’s so important to me). The process is ongoing, but I posted my first attempt over at Medium, How Design Gets Everywhere.

Devices For Robots

interaction design, interface, and robots

Robot Keyboard Robot Calculator is fueled by the intersection of mishaps, happenstance, books, curiousity, and beer.

New York, NY
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